Twain & Dubya

Maud Newton has written an article on Mark Twain for the American Prospect. Being a Twain junkie and a regular Maud Newton reader, I of course read this article and tried very hard to believe every word of it.  But I cannot subscribe to one of her assertions. 

For one thing, there is no way that Twain, even with his prodigious imagination, could have anticipated the ascendency, let alone the second-term victory, of such a volatile and ridiculous figure as Geoge W. Bush.  He is, even now in the 21st century, too surreal, incompetent and dangerous a cattleman for even the most cynical of spirits to conjure up. 

During Twain’s time, of course, the high watermark of presidential insanity was Theodore Roosevelt.  As Twain wrote in a letter to the New York Times (March 6, 1908):

Our people have adored this showy charlatan as perhaps no impostor of his brood has been adored since the Golden Calf, so it is to be expected that the Nation will want him back again after he is done hunting other wild animals heroically in Africa, with the safeguard and advertising equipment of a park of artillery and a brass band.

If Twain were alive today, it is likely that he would have blasphemed Bush for similar reasons, but I am not certain if his constitution would have weathered the stunning fear and remarkable self-immolation with which the American public rushed to the ballot boxes a little more than a year ago.

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  1. On the other hand, Twain revered and even served as literary agent for (and financial savior of) his great friend Ulysses S. Grant, an incompetent leader who presided over a corrupt administration. Grant, of course, had many personal qualities worth admiring — not least that he proved to be an excellent writer.

  2. At least TR had the guts to lead the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, and relaxed by hunting wild animals in Africa. Dubya, in sharp contrast, sat out Vietnam by playing flyboy in Texas and Alabama, and relaxes by clearing brush with a chainsaw.

    The standards of manliness and virility certainly aren’t what they used to be.

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